By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Fans arriving for Concord University’s homecoming football game today will probably have smiles on their faces — and not just because of the warm and sunny weather forecast.
The Mountain Lions (3-1) bring the nation’s No. 2 defense and an improved offense into their 2 p.m. encounter with Fairmont State University (2-2), which has lost the last four games between the two programs.
Concord’s offense took a giant step forward last Saturday in a 20-3 win at West Liberty, keeping possession of the ball for more than 44 minutes and averaging 4.3 yards per snap.
Calvinaugh Jones broke out with 132 rushing yards, including a career-best 45-yard touchdown run.
The defense is second in NCAA Division II in total defense, points allowed and passing yards allowed. Concord averages 3.3 turnovers forced per game.
Senior Josh Clark took an interception 32 yards for the Lions’ last touchdown last Saturday, and Davon Marion closed out West Liberty’s final drive with a pick.
Kicker Andy Ellington connected on field goals of 48 and 42 yards. The longer one set a new school record according to the CU sports information department.
Four of Andrew Huska’s kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. Huska’s 41.1-yard punting average is second best in the Mountain East Conference.
“Last week, all the phases did come together,” said Concord head coach Garin Justice. “We’re getting better, each and every week. It was nice to see the run game finally start to come through. The defense has been great every single week and they continue to take another step forward.”
Clark and Ellington earned conference player of the week honors on Monday. So did Fairmont State running back Dawrence Roberts, who rang up 175 yards and two touchdowns in the Falcons’ 56-3 rout of West Virginia State last weekend.
Justice said Roberts, a transfer from Grambling State, “is a very good tailback.”
Jones had 32 of Concord’s 43 rushing carries at West Liberty. Justice said, “I think we just challenged him a little bit more. We let him know that what he was doing wasn’t good enough. We let the offensive line know that what they were doing wasn’t good enough.”
“It was a lot of Calvinaugh, but it was also a lot about the offensive line. They all had to improve ... and they took that step.”
Concord turned in “a total team defensive performance,” he said. “The defense, when they’re out there, they did what they’re supposed to do. They got a lot of three-and-outs, got the team off the field, had the interception for a touchdown.”
“They’ve set the bar high, and I continue to expect those guys to raise the bar, each and every week.”
Today will be a different kind of “homecoming” for Fairmont State first-year head coach Jason Woodman, who was a Concord assistant in the 2009-10 seasons.
Justice said, “What they’re going to do offensively is going to be very similar to us. Coach Woodman was the wide receiver coach here, and he’s now the head coach.”
“Coach Woodman’s a great football coach. He’ll do a great job. But we also have a great defense, so we’ll see. It’ll be a very interesting matchup.”
The Falcons lead the conference with 16 sacks, and linebacker Garrett Davis tops the MEC with 33 solo tackles.
Justice said the home environment today will be valuable.
“Homecoming’s always our best crowd — with the exception of the championship game versus Wesleyan two years ago,” Justice said. “Our guys always do well and play well, and there’s a lot of energy (with) a lot of people in the stands.”
“Our guys feed off of our crowd.”
Billy Owens, a three-way Concord football player in 1954-55 and the first African-American to enroll at the Athens school, is the honorary captain for the homecoming game. He is expected to take part in the pregame coin flip.
Justice said that idea originated with athletics director Kevin Garrett.
“Any time we can get in touch with our program history, and look back and see the guys who took the (first) steps, and pioneered the steps, we’re always for it,” Justice said.
—Contact Tom Bone at email@example.com